Undescended Testicles: What is Normal?
Normally testicles form inside the abdomen or belly and then travel south into the scrotum. Occasionally this doesn’t happen. The testicle stays in the belly, resulting in what we call an undescended testicle. This is a fairly common condition affecting about 30 percent of preterm male infants and about 4 percent of full-term babies.
Often a testicle may be there but be too high up in the scrotum for someone to see. Referred to as a retractile testicle, this may occur when it is cold. Putting your baby into a warm bath and then rechecking will often reveal the high-riding testicle. If the testicle is still not visible, further evaluation is a good idea.
The good news is that about half the time an undescended testicle finds its way into the scrotum without any assistance. This usually happens within the first 6 months of life. Seek assistance from a pediatric urologist or surgeon if a testicle is not where it is supposed to be within the first 12 months.
Why do you need to get the testicle into the scrotum?
Doing so prevents fertility problems up the road. If the undescended testicle is untreated for years, it can be exposed to warmer temperatures in the belly. This in turn can affect how sperm function years later when an infant becomes an adult. An undescended testicle can also put someone at increased risk for testicular cancer or increase a boy’s risk of having a twisting of the testicle, which can be very painful.
The surgery to bring down and secure an undescended testicle is often done on an outpatient basis. Boys recover usually within a week. Occasionally the testicle is damaged from being stuck up in the belly. In that case, it will need to be removed during the repair surgery. But be reassured that fertility is usually good even with only one healthy testicle.
Hopefully, tips like these will descend easily into your mind when and help you to know what to do about your baby boy having an undescended testicle.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital. He is also chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.